Grim hunt for bodies in wake of siege at Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya

Rescuers and forensic experts scour scene of devastation after four-day Westgate mall siege as al-Shebab chief threatens more bloodshed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 10:56am

Kenyan and foreign forensics teams scoured the wreckage of a Nairobi shopping mall for bodies and clues after a four-day siege by Islamist gunmen left 67 dead and dozens more missing.

Rescuers and investigators wore face masks and soldiers wrapped scarves around their mouths because of the overpowering stench inside the Westgate centre, once the capital's most upmarket mall.

A large part of the complex collapsed after heavy explosions and a fierce fire.

Video: Nairobi video shows Westgate Mall wreckage

Across Kenya, flags flew at half mast at the start of three days of official mourning.

Somalia's al-Shabab chief Ahmed Abdi Godane said the carnage was a "message to Westerners" who "backed Kenya's invasion [of Somalia] that spilled the blood of the Muslims for the interest of their oil companies".

In an audio message posted on an Islamist website, Godane threatened "more bloodshed" unless Kenya withdrew its troops from Somalia.

Kenya invaded southern Somalia to attack al-Shabab bases two years ago and later joined the 17,700-strong African Union force deployed in Somalia.

The al-Qaeda-linked group claimed on Twitter that the 137 hostages they seized all died.

It also accused Kenyan troops of using "chemical agents" and explosives to end the stand-off.

President Uhuru Kenyatta announced an end to the 80-hour bloodbath late on Tuesday, with the "immense" loss of 61 civilians and six members of the security forces.

Five suspected attackers were also killed and 11 detained, officials said. Police said the death toll was provisional, with the Kenyan Red Cross reporting 71 people missing.

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said top forensic experts and investigators from Britain, the United States, Israel, Germany, Canada and Interpol had joined the inquiry.

However he was unable to answer many remaining questions over the identity of the attackers, the possible presence of a British woman and American jihadists, and how the cell got such large quantities of weapons and ammunition into the complex.

"It is an elaborate process. Among the things that are going on now are fingerprinting, DNA identification [and] ballistic examinations," Lenku said.

Teams with sniffer dogs entered the bullet-riddled mall, apparently to check for explosives and victims buried under the rubble of a collapsed part of the building.

Forensic teams could take at least a week to gather evidence, Lenku said. "The army told us we would get access to the bodies yesterday, but then said it was too dangerous," a Red Cross official said.

"The bodies still inside the mall will have to be identified from photos. They are now in such a state of decomposition that you can't put a family member through that."

The militants marched into the four-storey, part Israeli-owned mall at midday on Saturday spraying shoppers with automatic weapons fire and tossing grenades.

Many of the dead were foreigners, including from victims from China, Britain, Canada, France, the Netherlands, India, South Africa and South Korea.

"These cowards will meet justice, as will their accomplices and patrons, wherever they are," Kenyatta vowed.